More than 50 years after its nationwide debut in a number of notable newspapers in 1950, Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip not only holds an impeachable place within American pop culture, but is universally held as one of the defining works of the cartoonist medium. Peanuts still commands an impressive and multi-generational influence over various writers, artists, and animators. It certainly explains why, at the time of his death, Charles M. Schulz was the richest cartoonist ever (worth $450 million).
This year is the 65th anniversary of the comic strip and, with The Peanuts Movie coming out tomorrow, there’s no better time than now to get acquainted with Schulz’s iconic imaginings and the vast wealth of material that poured forth from his imagination.
Without further ado, here is a detailed list of essential reading and viewing recommendations in celebration of the upcoming movie and the overall Peanuts franchise.
Of course, I couldn’t begin this list without the comic strips that started it all.
The Complete Peanuts from Fantagraphics is exactly what its title says. It’s an ambitious, 12-year undertaking by the publisher to collect the entirety of the original Peanuts comic strips, all in chronological order. I’m not kidding when I say “entirety,” since these collections often feature a number of strips that haven’t been republished in any other format since their appearance in newspapers.
Also included in these collections are introductions, biographical essays, and never-before-seen interviews conducted with Charles himself.
Gorgeously and meticulously designed by a number of contributing cartoonists, these collections not only give readers the timeless stories and characters that have come to define the Peanuts world, but also allow them to track the evolution of the comic strip and Schulz’s developing skills as a cartoonist and storyteller. From his earliest work in the 1950’s to his final stroke of the pen in 2000, The Complete Peanuts gives you the most complete (no pun intended) look what is called “the most shining example of the American success story in the comic strip field.”
As with any other omnibus collection of this type, it’s going to cost you a bit more than usual. Both the boxed sets and the separate books range anywhere from $30-40 each. Plus, they are quite large, so I would suggest making some room for your library (especially if you are getting a boxed set). Oh, and remember when I mentioned this was a 12-year project? This month, Fantagraphics will publish the final two volumes (twenty-five in all) of The Complete Peanuts, with the final volume containing the complete run of Li’l Folks, the precursor to Peanuts.
If money isn’t an issue and you have the space on your bookshelf, The Complete Peanuts is the perfect starting point for both fans and newcomers alike.
Buy The Complete Peanuts on Amazon, starting here or here. The Complete Peanuts is also available at your nearest bookstore or comic shop.
Have you ever wondered if there is any new Peanuts material? Don’t worry, another comic book company has you covered!
In 2012, BOOM! Studios brought the world of Peanuts back to the printed page with an ongoing comic series and graphic novels, published under its kids imprint KaBOOM!
The anthology-style comic series builds upon an already rich foundation set by Charles’ strips and takes your favorite characters into brand new adventures and territory while remaining true to the depth and spirit of the original source material. It’s all the more fitting that Schulz’s own strips are also included in the series, further exposing his work to newer readers.
The series currently spans 28 issues and counting, with five collected volumes out thus far. Fans of Snoopy will also be excited to know that the series will take a brief detour to focus on an original story featuring the character. Titled Peanuts: The Snoopy Special, the mini-series event is set to debut this month to coincide with the movie.
Buy BOOM! Studios’ Peanuts comics in collected volumes on Amazon, here. The comics and collected volumes are also available on comiXology and your nearest bookstore or comic shop.
Now, to address another question on some of your minds. Perhaps you don’t mind reading licensed Peanuts material, but you want ‘full-length’ stories instead of anthology tales. Where can you find them?
Don’t worry, BOOM! Studios also has you covered in that area.
To compliment the ongoing series, BOOM! also released three original graphic novels featuring new stories that expand the Peanuts’ world. In no particular order, these graphic novels are: It’s Tokyo, Charlie Brown; The Beagle Has Landed, Charlie Brown; and, the latest addition, Peanuts: Where Beagles Dare.
Much like the classic TV specials, these books provide readers with full-length stories that take the characters out of their comfort zones and into new settings (JAPAN!) and new situations, each one more colorful, outlandish, and memorable than the last. These graphic novels are written and drawn by much of the same team behind the comic books, so expect the same consistency in terms of both the art and the humor.
Buy BOOM! Studios’ Peanuts graphic novels on Amazon (It’s Tokyo, Charlie Brown, The Beagle Has Landed, Charlie Brown, and Peanuts: Where Beagles Dare). The graphic novels are also available on comiXology and your nearest bookstore or comic shop.
Remember when I said Peanuts had a wide-ranging influence across multiple creators in multiple mediums across multiple generations? Well, here’s a recommendation that gives you a clear idea of how much of an impact the comic strip made on aspiring storytellers (and still does to this day).
From BOOM! Studios (once again), Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Shultz is part-anthology, part-retrospective and is a loving tribute to the legacy of Peanuts and the man who created it. Contained within the book is a series of original stories, pin-ups, and comic strips, all of which are written and drawn by some of the biggest names in comics, webcomics, children’s books, and animation.
From the talent assembled for this book, you get a pretty solid idea of the wide-reaching cultural impact Peanuts had (and still has to this day). Fans of any of these creators will likely get a kick out of seeing A-list heavyweights such as Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), Paul Pope (Battling Boy), and Mike Allred (iZombie, Silver Surfer) deliver their own unique takes on the Peanuts’ universe. It’s not only a fantastic anthology book, but also a universal celebration of an artist and his immortal contribution to the wide spectrum of popular art.
Buy BOOM! Studios’ Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Shultz on Amazon here. The book is also available at your nearest bookstore and/or comic shop.
Do you want to know more about the man behind Peanuts? Here are some recommendations that dig deep into every facet of Charles’ life and work.
Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis is a fantastic biography that delves unflinchingly into Charles’ private life, revealing a very flawed and human side to the man who was rarely (if ever) explored in previous accounts of his life. In this book, fans of Peanuts will discover that, for all of his successes, Charles M. Schulz was not a very happy man throughout most of his life. His depression, stemming from his childhood experiences growing up in Minnesota, would eventually become a catalyst for how he would shape the character of Charlie Brown. Readers will also discover how much of his personal life would shape the iconic stories and scenes within the Peanuts strip, such as when his extramarital affair manifested into a story of Snoopy’s crush on a girl dog. In fact, woven throughout the 700+ pages of the book are 250 selected strips, all of which are carefully well-placed and utilized by David to illustrate how Charles’ work mirrored his personal life (and sometimes vice-versa). He also explores the full impact of the meteoric success of his comic strip and the reactions to its success by fellow cartoonists.
All in all, it’s a perfect read for those wanting to take a roller coaster journey through the life of a steely, determined individual who’s personal struggles gave life to his greatest achievement.
Buy Schulz and Peanuts on Amazon here. The book is also available in bookstores near you.
For a more accessible option, I would also recommend Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman. This book takes a broader view of Charles and his life, but is no less compelling a portrait of a friendly man whose strive and penchant for never giving up would become part of the foundation for Charlie Brown and the world that surrounds him. In this book, readers will learn more about the people who became the real life inspirations for characters like the Little Red-Haired Girl (a woman that turned down Charles’ marriage proposal) and Lucy (Charles’ ex-wife). To that point, while the book doesn’t shy away from serious topics (like the death of Charles’ mom and his divorce), it is also quick to highlight his achievements as both an adoring father and artistic genius. The book itself is stylistically designed and presented as such to appeal to younger readers. It is a great choice for those who want to experience Charles’ life story with a slightly softer touch.
Buy Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz on Amazon here. The book is also available in stores near you.
For those who want to fully immerse themselves in Charles’ mindset, I recommend My Life with Charlie Brown. Edited by comics scholar M. Thomas Inge with assistance from the Schulz’s estate, My Life with Charlie Brown collects the major prose writings and never-before-published materials from the man himself. These writings serve to give the reader the most complete insight into the inner workings of Charles Schulz, providing context behind his worldview in relation to the themes of modern life, philosophy, and religion that are present throughout the comic strip. The topics contained within are wide-ranging, from his comics criticisms to his commentary on faith to his newspaper articles concerning the creation of his characters. This is another great one for those who want a deeper understanding of Charles’ philosophy, work ethic, and personality.
Buy My Life with Charlie Brown on Amazon here. The book is also available in bookstores near you.
Lastly, if you are more interested in the evolution of Charles Schulz as an artist, then I heartily recommend Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. The perfect coffee table album for the Peanuts enthusiast, the book gives a detailed and thorough retrospective of Charles as he evolved as an artist throughout the years. From never-before-seen items like his WWII sketchbook and his very first comic strip (Just Keep Laughing) to a private scrapbook containing Lil’Folks strips and developmental sketches of various Peanuts characters, readers receive the clear bedrock from which his later achievements in art, layout, and design would spring. You even get to find out what type of pencil he used to draw the comic strip!
Once again, this is a prime choice for the artists that want to know how one of the masters of cartooning came to harness his craft.
Buy Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz on Amazon here. The book is also available in bookstores and libraries near you.
The TV Specials
If you haven’t read any of the comic strips, then chances are good you probably remember watching the TV specials. Not only do they constitute a sizable chunk of any given person’s childhood memories, but they are also representative of Charles Schulz’s huge contribution to animation (it certainly helps that he wrote almost all the the specials himself). Not to mention, there are a LOT of TV specials out there, which makes now the perfect time to suggest some viewing recommendations you might be familiar with (and some you may not).
I think everyone at some point saw the holiday-based specials. Aside from being a perfect starting point for any Peanuts fan, they are essential viewing for any given occasion. Whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, it never really feels right if you haven’t watched at least one of these specials at one time or another (a fact many can attest to).
Buy Peanuts Holiday Collection on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon here.
You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is both a classic TV special and at once the perfect antidote and compliment to today’s heated political climate. Basically, Charlie Brown gets caught in the middle of a school election and subsequently attempts to wade through all the complexities of the political process. The simple, yet knowingly detailed approach, to its subject matter make this TV special just as timely today as it was back in 1972.
Buy this TV special as part of the Peanuts 1970’s Collection on Amazon.
You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown is a TV special that best illustrates the ‘don’t-give-up’ attitude Charlie Brown always possessed as a character, even if he’s the world’s biggest one-man fail army. When given the chance to compete in a motocross racing challenge, he proves that even the biggest loser can be number one in any given situation.
Buy You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown on Amazon here.
This is America, Charlie Brown is quite unique among the larger canon of Peanuts TV specials. It is a miniseries, as opposed to being one half-hour special, that takes viewers on a journey through pivotal events in American history as seen and told by various Peanuts characters. It also marks one of the rare times the adults (who are historical figures here) are seen alongside the Peanuts cast. It is a great pickup for those wanting something that differs from the usual Peanuts formula.
Buy This is America, Charlie Brown on Amazon here.
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? is a pivotal, almost watershed moment within animation history, as it is the first time an animated show dealt with a serious, real-life topic and did so in an earnest, head-on manner. In this case, the special deals with a character named Janice who is diagnosed with cancer. The real meat of the story stems from the Peanuts gang and how they react to the news (and how they attempt to help her through it). It’s a subject that was also important to Charles Schulz himself (his mother died of cancer and he too succumbed to colon cancer in 2000). His familiarity with the subject makes for one of his most personal and poignant Peanuts stories ever told.
Buy Why, Charlie Brown, Why? on Amazon Video here.
A Charlie Brown Valentine was the first Peanuts special to be created after the death of Charles Shultz, and it still stands as a great example of why, even without Charles to lead the way, the world he created was still in great hands. Utilizing a style that was much closer to Charles’ artwork than ever before, the special tells the story of Charlie Brown’s attempts to proclaim his love to the Little Red-Haired Girl (in one of her rare full-view appearances). It is classic Peanuts all the way and deserving of it’s place in the Peanuts canon.
Buy A Charlie Brown Valentine on Amazon here.
And that’s a wrap on our reading and viewing recommendation guides for The Peanuts Movie, in theaters everywhere tomorrow!
What do you think? Are there any books/TV specials you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments!
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes